Here is the third and final series of photographs from my time at the 24th edition of the South Florida Tattoo Expo, which took place earlier this month right here in Coral Springs. And I’ve shared images of the many great tattoo artists that attended Expo (photos HERE) and I’ve shined a light on the great bands, hot bodies and other forms of entertainment the Expo offers guests over its weekend span (photos HERE). I’ve saved the best for last. Well, let’s just say that it’s the most interesting (bizarre, perhaps?) – human suspension. What is it exactly? It’s the act of suspending a human body from hooks that have been put through the skin. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? I mean, what sort of person would pierce their skin with large-gauge hooks and hang off the ground? Must be a new thing these kids are doing, right? Wrong.
The oldest recorded acts of human suspension date back approximately 5,000 years and originated among devout Hindus in India. It was deemed by practitioners to be an act of penance that would prove one’s ever-growing devotion to the Hindu gods if they engaged in progressively more intense suspension sessions. Human suspension has also been a tradition among certain North American Indian tribes going back centuries. Most notably, the Mandan Tribe who lived along the banks of the Missouri River. The ceremonies were first formally documented by George Catlin, a member of the Louis and Clark expeditions who described the ceremonies (called “Okipa”) as four-day-long events that required extensive preparation and self-sacrifice by all participants.
Modern suspension has been largely shaped by Fakir Musafar, a man who was born on an Indian reservation in South Dakota in 1930 with the name Roland Loomis, who is widely regarded as the “father of the Modern Primitives.” What he has pioneered since 1944 – tribal tattoos, nose rings, ear lobe enlargements, small-waist corsetry, human suspension and more – were once practices in an underground subculture. For Musafar, and many others after him, body modification is a form of self-expression and spiritual exploration, a way to move beyond the body into a higher spiritual plane. He died just last year (2018) at 87 years old.
Many who practice human suspension describe it as cathartic. It’s rather shocking to the rest of us but that feeling of shock is what many who suspend are looking for – the rush of endorphins, serotonin, and other chemicals that results in a sort of high. Some see it as a spiritual experience. Others find it exhilarating. A subset of those who practice suspension do it as a type of performance art, choreographing lurid and shocking spectacles that are performed in front of audiences.
Sure, it’s hard to understand why anyone would want to have hooks put through their skin then be lifted off the ground by said hooks. But it’s also hard to understand why anyone would think Sammy Hagar’s Van Halen was better than David Lee Roth’s, right? What I witnessed (this being my second year in a row at the Expo) were people really enjoying being suspended. It doesn’t have to make sense. I mean, it sure as hell ain’t my thing but it was their thing and it was something to behold.
The ringleaders of the group were Manda Rexx and Chadillac of Rexx Body Modification of Davenport, Iowa.
Well, that wraps up what was a memorable 24th edition of the South Florida Tattoo Expo. Next year, they’ll be celebrating their 25th anniversary so you know it’s gonna be extra special (crazy!) so follow them on Facebook for exact dates – you’re not gonna wanna miss it. And remember, all proceeds benefit the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. See you there!
All photographs of the South Florida Tattoo Expo were taken with my Pentax K-1 using the Pentax 24-70mm f/2.8, Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited, Irix 15mm f/2.4 and the Pentax-F 135mm f/2.8. Supported by the Spider Camera Holster SpiderPro Hand Strap (a must for the weighty K-1) and carried around in the Lowepro Slingshot Edge 250 camera bag.